Exercise-Induced Low Back Pain and Neuromuscular Control of the Spine - Experimentation and Simulation

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Virginia Tech

Low back pain (LBP) is associated with altered neuromuscular control of the trunk, as well as impaired performance during functional tasks highly dependent upon trunk neuromuscular control. Comparing measurements between individuals with and without LBP does not distinguish whether the LBP individual exhibits altered neuromuscular control only while experiencing LBP versus at all times. Additional insight was gained on the relationship between trunk neuromuscular control and LBP by investigating individuals who experience recurrent exercise-induced LBP (eiLBP). To differentiate the effects of LBP from individual differences, comparisons were made between episodes of pain and no pain within eiLBP individuals, and between eiLBP individuals while pain free and a group of healthy controls. Three studies were completed based on repeated measurements from both eiLBP and healthy individuals. Study 1 investigated effects of eiLBP on fundamental measures of neuromuscular control, including intrinsic trunk stiffness and the paraspinal reflex delay using a series of pseudo-random position perturbations. eiLBP individuals exhibited increased stiffness compared to healthy controls unaffected by the presence of pain, and increased reflex delays concurrent only with pain. Study 2 investigated effects of eiLBP on seated sway during a functional task involving maintaining balance. Seat and trunk kinematics were obtained while participants balanced on a wobble chair at two difficulty levels. eiLBP individuals exhibited impaired seat measures at all times, with altered trunk measures only while in pain and when the task was not challenging. Study 3 investigated effects of eiLBP on the underlying control of seated sway using a model of wobble chair balance. Quantified neuromuscular control indicated increases in proportional and noise gains for a challenging level compared to an easy level, more so for eiLBP individuals compared to controls and while experiencing pain compared to pain free. Overall, fundamental measures, seated sway measures, and identified control parameters using a model of wobble chair balance were all affected by the presence of pain within the eiLBP individuals and/or the eiLBP individuals compared to healthy controls. Therefore, this study shows that some characteristics appear to be inherent to the LBP individual, while others are only concurrent with pain.

Low Back Pain, Neuromuscular Control, Biomechanics, Modeling